NEWS 18, May 14, 2021
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have written to lawmakers who had urged for virtual meetings of parliamentary standing committees, and, while expressing regret, have said such a step is not possible at this time. Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu held a meeting on Thursday morning in the presence of Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla and several senior officials to weigh such appeals by some MPs against the backdrop of the raging pandemic, according to the sources.
A confidentiality clause of parliamentary functioning says that members have to be physically present for meetings. The sources said both houses have told the MPs that any change in the rule has to be ratified by Parliament and that is not possible right now as there is no session in progress.
The leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and floor leader for the Trinamool Congress in the upper House Derek O’Brien are among the lawmakers who had written to the RS chairman to consider holding virtual meetings. Sources in the Lok Sabha said if the rules are altered at any point, that would be applicable to both houses of Parliament.
In a letter to Kharge, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said virtual meetings of parliamentary standing committees cannot take place as it requires an amendment in rules which is not possible as the Parliament is not in session, adding presiding officers of both the houses have discussed the matter.
In a similar fashion during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the Rajya Sabha chairman and the Lok Sabha speaker had decided to refer holding of virtual meetings of the committees to the Rules Committee in lieu of the existing rules and confidentiality clause, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said according to the letter.
As physical meetings of the committees were being held regularly, following the guidelines strictly, the matter rested there and the situation had not arisen for considering the matter by the Rules Committees in both the Houses, it stated. The meetings of the committees can be considered shortly once the situation improves for the better, the Rajya Sabha Secretariat said, adding, “the issue of confidentiality can be resolved during the session as any amendment to the rules can be approved by respective houses only after the matter is considered by the Rules Committee”.
The budget session of Parliament had to be curtailed this time in March because many MPs wanted to participate in the assembly election process in four states and one union territory. With the coronavirus crisis looming, several pandemic norms including social distancing, wearing of masks and compulsory Covid negative test reports were mandated by Parliament for the budget session. Towards the end of the session, both houses had started functioning simultaneously; at the beginning, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were working for five hours each.
Even last year, when the pandemic was escalating, many lawmakers across the political spectrum had requested the Rajya Sabha chairman and the Lok Sabha speaker to hold these meetings virtually, arguing that it was impossible for them to travel to Delhi, risk infection, and also abide by the quarantine rules in effect in certain parts on returning to their respective states.
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